Josh Beckett and the importance of learning how to pitch

July 15th, 2006 → 12:49 pm @ // 8 Comments

Before the season began, Peter Gammons predicted that, should be remain healthy, Josh Beckett would be the American League Cy Young Award winner. Well, so far, Beckett has remained healthy, and it appears as if 2006 could be the first time in his career that he tops 200 innings. But the Cy Young? Not so much. Beckett’s 11-5 record shows nothing so much as how deceptive a pitcher’s won-loss record can be; his 5.12 ERA is more indicative of how he’s pitched this season. Indeed, last night’s 7-run, 8-hit, 4 1/3 inning effort is beginning to feel disturbingly familiar.

So what’s the problem? It doesn’t seem to be his stuff: he began last night’s game by getting Jason Kendall to whiff on a 97-mile-per-hour fastball—and he’s reached 95 in almost every start this year. Here’s one theory, and it’s one that’s at least been discussed within Yawkey Way: Beckett has never learned how to pitch.

At first blush, that probably seems like a ridiculous statement. Beckett shutout the Yankees on short rest to clinch the 2003 World Series for the Marlins, and has been cited as one of baseball’s marquee pitchers for as long as he’s been in the game. But that could be the problem. For as long as Beckett’s pitched, he’s been someone blessed with preternatural ability and lauded for his skills. In 1999, he was the first high school righthander to be selected second overall in the draft in more than two decades. Baseball America named him the top high school prospect in the country, and he was USA Today‘s High School Pitcher of the Year. He spent only one full season in the minors (2000), and has been a full-time major league starter since he was 22. Compare his development to that of Jonathan Papelbon, a college closer whom the Red Sox converted to a starter in the minors, asking him to develop a fuller repertoire of pitches. In the NL—or, as us American League snobs like to call it, AAAA—Beckett could, more often than not, rely on his natural ability to overpower and overwhelm the opposition. In the AL, he’ll get his share of strike-outs, but he’ll also find that there are plenty of hitters who can use the power he generates to smash a ball into the stands. (It’s no accident that Beckett leads the league with 27 home runs allowed.) When he’s not blowing pitchers away, he’s often getting lit up.

So what does that mean going forward? When it’s working for him, Beckett has a jaw-droppingly nasty curve, and there’s no reason he can’t learn to mix in a little Greg Maddux with his Nolan Ryan. (This is what’s allowed Pedro Martinez to be one of the all-time greats. Witness Game 5 of the ALDS in 1999, when Martinez—essentially pitching on guile and guts—shut down the Indians without any of the power he used to whiff five of the first six batters in that year’s All-Star Game.) But that transition is going to take a bit of time…

An aside: I’m convinced the reaction to Beckett as compared to Matt Clement should serve as case study A in how a player’s demeanor, and perhaps even his physical appearance, can have as much to do with fan reaction as his on-field performance does. Last year, Clement finished at 13-6 with a 4.57 ERA. He helped anchor an exceedingly shaky rotation’s first-half. And he was hit in the head by a screaming line drive. But Clement–asthmatic, hunched over, in need of glasses–appears kind of shlubby, and, even though he never tries to make excuses, he’s often looks as if he’s sporting the Derek Lowe Face. Beckett, on the other hand, looks and talks like a warrior. Last year’s reaction to Schilling as compared to Keith Foulke is another example. The Sox wouldn’t have won the World Series without either one, and Foulke’s performance in the ALCS was as gutsy and brave as anything I’ve seen. But Schilling is well spoken; Foulke is defensive and has a tendency to lash out. Schilling was consistently applauded just for making it out to the mound; Foulke took as much abuse as anyone on the team.


Post Categories: Baseball & Curt Schilling & Jonathan Papelbon & Josh Beckett & Keith Foulke & Matt Clement & The Derek Lowe Face

8 Comments → “Josh Beckett and the importance of learning how to pitch”


  1. tlanger

    11 years ago

    You are dead on – Beckett hasn’t learned the craft and has been getting by on pure skill (i.e., fastball). However, there are better fastball hitters in the AL and he’s not been able to adjust, yet. It’ll be interesting to see if he figures it out this year or not…in fact, the Sox chances are greatly riding on his (lack of) development….

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  2. Nordberg

    11 years ago

    Great observation on Beckett. One I had considered from the perspective of the chasm between the AL and NL, but not in those developmental terms.
    Two points: 1. The Sox probably cannot win without him this year, so he needs to figure it out quick. 2. Considering what they gave up to the Marlins to get him (Ramirez, Sanchez), and that they signed him to a one-year deal, to what extent do they go to to sign him next year?
    Yeah, the dude doesn’t know how to pitch.
    And in Boston, yup, be the warrior. Teddy, Yaz, Fisk, Bird … never show a weakness.

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  3. Rubber Arm

    11 years ago

    On these here internets…

    Josh Beckett never learned to pitch (SethMnookin.com) The Gyroball is coming to a park near you (Deadspin) Video of said Gyroball (YouTube) Yankees after Shawn Green? (Can’t Stop the Bleeding) Mike Hargrove is killing the Mariners (USS Mariner) David …

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  4. misterrob

    11 years ago

    Beckett has a problem getting his curveball over for strikes consistantly. He also has a problem spotting his pitches which everyone has seen by now…

    However,

    Why has he not learned how to throw a better change up? (paging Red Sox pitching coach…)

    Why has he not learned how to throw a splitter by now? With Schilling as a teammate there’s no excuse for that. A split would make teams have to respect his fastball again.

    I am not convinced of his mental make up yet. He gets angry far too easy and tries to muscle hitters.

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  5. peds sal

    11 years ago

    Josh Beckett’s problems are psychological. He said prior to this season that his goal is to be healthy all season. His critics always say that he is not a workhorse not having pitched 200 + innings nor made 30 or more starts. So he wanted to prove his critics wrong. He also knows that the cause of his finger blister is the curveball, so he doesn’t use it often, though he has an excellent curveball. There were many instances that he shook off his catcher calling for a curveball. Now he has proven to everyone that he can stay healthy all season long but what a price to pay, high ERA, more homeruns, more walks and being inconsistent because he doesn’t mix his pitches.

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  6. peds sal

    11 years ago

    For all his (Josh Beckett) inconsistencies, however, he has proven that he can stay healthy all season long. Now that he has accomplished his goal of reaching 200 + innings pitched, 30 plus starts, next season (2007) will be different. With his experience in facing AL hitters, Josh will be wiser next year. He will certainly mix his pitches and next year we will see a different Beckett.

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  7. peds sal

    11 years ago

    He was quoted as saying “stubborn stupidness” after the game against NY Yankees. I think what he meant was if I throw more curveballs my blister would crop up and would land me on DL. So he relies on his fastball. The problem is the hitters lay off his other stuff and wait for his fastball which resulted to his high number of homeruns given up this season. But next year would be a different Beckett. He will use his experience this season to perform much better next season. BTW, for all his inconsistencies this season he has already 14 wins right?

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  8. […] don’t know as much about baseball as the baseball ops staff — to say the least — but I was concerned, and that was mainly because his fastball is as straight as John Wayne and he seemed perpetually […]

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